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This review first appeared in the October 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end auto-links to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Sources: Audiomeca Obsession II, C.E.C. TL51XR
Amplification: Integrateds - Accuphase E-212, Myryad MXI2080, C.E.C. AMP5300, Lua 4040C; pre/power - bel canto PRe3/S300, audiolab 8000Q/8000M
Loudspeakers: Thiel CS 2.4 , Sehring 703 SE
Cables: low-level - Straight Wire Virtuoso, Zaolla Reinsilber NF; high-level - Ortofon SPK 500, Straight Wire Rhapsody, HMS Al Cinema
Review component retail: €4,598/pr

In the right light...
Bettina and PP33 - those two were my first great loves. While the former didn't last to the end of the school years, the latter did make it to university. And sounded better. To be precise, Peerless PP33 she was called, my first DIY box. The finish -- lovingly administered, tastelessly selected -- was DC Fix Foil in silver Ash (or equivalent), compared to which Bettina was rather more attractive. More lithe, too. In those days, speakers still showed off wide baffles also to support maturely sized woofers (I think a 25er it was for the PP33). In combination with midrange and tweeter domes, this netted a respectable sensitivity of 93dB/1w/1m. She was truly dynamic and fast. If I
recall properly, what she lacked was the lowest register. No true infrasonics below the raw fundamentals though appearances rather promised more. But my divorce from this three-way goes a few years back. My aural fix on it is no longer solid.

Certain things did however catch my notice as I stood eye to eye with today's test object, the Wharfedale Opus II-3 (or Opus2 3, with the '2' signifying the second edition): a sensitivity of 91dB; a wide baffle; two 25cm woofers; and a stonking midrange dome. It's quite intuitive why I had visions of my good ol'e PP33.

Conceptual details...
Perhaps you remember. There were times when midrange domes enjoyed greater popularity than today. That doesn't mean they curled up and died. Speaker brands like PMC, Klein + Hummel studio monitors and ProAc continue to use 'em routinely. In fact, Wharfedale views the 75mm unit as the central attraction of its Opus Series. As are the other drivers, this dome is manufactured by the Brits.

Domes do offer certain advantages over cones yet excursion on principle is limited before severe distortion sets in (domes are exclusively driven from the edge). Thus domes cannot be adapted for bass. Even for the vocal band, they mandate a higher pass, i.e. they cover a narrower bandwidth than the usual midrange cones. Our review loaner accordingly
incorporates its dome - as does the entire Opus Series - between 700 and 4,000Hz, very sensible since it brackets the range where the human ear is most sensitive. With distortion categorically below 1% when measured at 100dB and 1 meter, Wharfedale understandably regards its heart of the Opus range as a major achievement.

Due to the horn-shaped well, there's improved dispersion. Properly engineered wave guides create constant directivity. Regardless of toe-in relative to the listening seat, the covered bandwidth exhibits linear response, merely showing expected off-axis attenuation. We won't have to get too technical but should still mention that behind the actual diaphragm, there's a 'solid wall' of equal diameter, hence one may apply more external probing pressure on this driver without causing the usual deformation. (Under no circumstances attempt the same with the tweeter however...)

The hard-hung paralleled 25cm woofers sport woven Carbon diaphragms for superior claimed stiffness. For magnets, Wharfedale champions cost-effective ferrites exclusively. Compared to the massive woofers and imposing midrange, the tweeter seems nearly lost on its post but, as in life, counters with the more important inner virtues. To wit, an expensive Neodymium motor. With little mass, it generates high field strength and 93dB/1w/1m sensitivity, not exactly wallflower timidness; nor would be claimed 45kHz extension for this 25mm dome. In fact, this tweeter distinguishes the Gen 2 models from their predecessors whose tweeter sported weaker magnets, lower efficiency and a copper rather than aluminum voice coil for more limited extension.

Incidentally, Wharfedale hand-pairs driver for its three-way system to assure 1dB matching over individual bandwidths. Frequency steering of the 6-ohm speaker occurs via 18dB/octave woofer low-pass and 12dB tweeter high-pass. Besides an electrolytic cap, the tweeter leg employs quality polypropylene units while the bass filter employs air-core inductors exclusively which, compared to ferrite or iron cores, exhibit less core demagnetization losses.

Outfit ...
The four driver chassis are fitted to a respect-inducing 30cm wide and 120cm tall baffle compared to which my Thiel CS 2.4 (formerly defamed as "coffin" by my girlfriend) seems quite narrow chested. Just as imposing is fit 'n' finish. The cherry veneer of real wood with piano lacquer gloss on our loaners scored high. The MDF enclosure, fashioned in-house as are the drivers, uses a mix of resin-bonded Aussie pine and Eucalyptus (no protests on behalf of homeless koalas, please). Wharfedale claims that the labor-intensive enclosure and lacquer finish consume two full weeks in production.

That enclosure shrinks in cross
section toward the rear by about 10cm. Besides the usual reduction of parallel-wall standing waves, this form factor also aids an optical illusion of less than actual girth whereby to counteract the initial fatso impressions. It's an aspect I admittedly still vacillate on...

for sure is the tri-wire terminal plated in 24 carats. The terminals are solid, properly anchored and readily accessible for both banana or spade users (not a given as the parallel review of the audiolab 8000M monos proved). For single-wire preference, Wharfedale includes metal straps though upgrading those to proper cable jumpers is recommended. The Opus II-3 responds with enhanced resolution regardless of doubters who view such matters as imaginary.

Downright practical are the gold-plated spikes adjustable from the top even though only the rear two remain non-fixed. Still, stable installation is a cinch. Beware the extreme
points though. My left foot has the tale. Sometimes I wonder what my neighbors think of the occasional painful screams and curses. Pink noise they ain't...

Surely you're familiar with a zither. How about a kanun though? It too belongs to the zither family, albeit of the oriental bent and widely used in the Near East, parts of Asia and North Africa. The bridge supporting nylon or gut strings is suspended on a stiffly drawn skin and strings are struck by plectra, worn like rings rather than held as guitarists do. For kanun samples, click here. Of course things sound even fuller and more involving if recorded better or live but still, it's an interesting and lovingly designed website, I think...

The fascinating kanun sound is also featured by Peter Murphy, front man of the legendary Bauhaus band. Murphy has issued a number of interesting solo albums that have little in common with the earlier Bauhaus canon. Dust celebrates oriental influences and already the first song presents a kanun. Kicking off "Things to Remember" (initially via single wire and Accuphase E-212) is a massive, room-filling synthesized bass however to demonstrate the usefulness of 30Hz F3 and nearly 1.000cm² of combined woofer surface. One can virtually bathe in this piece. There's something to be said for superior bass reproduction. Over my Thiel CS 2.4 which aren't exactly pre-pubescent bass welter weights, this gets significantly scaled back to become rather less ominous and massive. Already super impressive, this part...

Not that the basement is all important, certainly not when the kanun sashays in: "Free, soft, quite full, realistically airy, flowing" were my notes. Yep, mids and highs too found themselves reproduced with overall warmth and true embodiment. Ascetic leanness clearly is a concept alien to the Wharfedale Opus II-3. Especially in the treble, individual tones seem rather soft. Even though the counterpoint darbuka percussion was precise and comparatively full, its attacks were reduced. Little surprise then that the later cymbals completely avoided any aggression but likewise lacked some metallic spark and rhythmically didn't fall into place as I'm used to.

Spatial organization via Accuphase (as well as Myryad mxi2080) wasn't razor-sharp but evinced a special quality which Robert Harley, chief of US mag The Absolute Sound, calls bloom: Individual instruments and performers are surrounded by air. That's vital to convey an open sound field and tonal subtleties - or as Harley puts it, the tonal halos of discrete instruments. Time for Jazz: On their release Sub Surface, the formation Das Tales In Tones Trio captures the kind of Jazz I personally prefer to indulge in real life, glass of wine in hand (which reminds me, when in Berlin, check out A-Trane ). "Pipo" is one of the most nimble numbers on this CD. And light-footed indeed it was over the Wharfedale Opus II-3. Compared to the Thiel CS 2.4 or Sehring 703SE, it also was less resolved and micro-dynamically less agile (granted, the Sehrings are more expensive) yet possessed enough native swing to
transcribe the atmosphere of the piece with full involvement. Versus the Thiel, the Wharfedale Opus II-3 appears more natural, full-bodied and colorful, rather like the Sehring in fact. The girl from Berlin meanwhile offers more, especially in the treble - more magnification power, more microdynamics, more attack (particularly on cymbals, hi-hat, snare and rimshots) and more acute holography.

Where the piano's left-most registers and general bass are concerned, the Wharfedale Opus II-3 digs deep as none of the others do to convey the kind of bass authority I usually only encounter in performance digs like A-Trane.

Intermediate conclusion: The Wharfedale Opus II-3 is no clinical micro surgeon, rather she is a more full-lipped, exceedingly colorful pleasure type. Instead of dot-accurate attacks, she paints individual sounds softer and more artistically, creating a more relaxed than high-tensioned soundscape. Especially the realistic vocal range exhibits zero seams, evidence of the unusual dome in action which also impresses with resolution. Regarding the lower octaves and as expected, the Wharefale Opus II-3 conjures up true sub bass - and cleanly. A consequently somewhat darkish timbre of this Chinese-built Brit could not be denied at this stage but more on that later...

To those who view my tonally factual Thiel CS 2.3 as downright cool, the Wharfedale Opus II-3 offers a valid alternative, which is something my colleague Ralph expressed during one of his brief visits to my flat.

Rather more interesting things lay in wait yet when Ralph brought over the just-reviewed audiolab 8000 Q+M pre/power combo. I'd already surmised that the generally warmer-voiced Accuphase E-212 and the softer, more flow-oriented Bel Canto Pre3/S300 duo offered solid amp muscle but that the Wharedales might still prefer more relentless weaponry with a harder bite that gives no quarter. I was particularly hopeful with regard to attacks (the spiky profile of impulses and transients), image lock and timbres leaning too deeply into the dark.

Inserting our C.E.C. AMP5300 did lighten up the timbres and instilled more detail in the mid/treble bands but didn't add anything useful on the attack front. What's more, the Wharfedale Opus II-3 in this combination lost some of its color and the aforementioned bloom. Ralph then demonstrated second sight when dropping by unannounced, 6-pack bundle of raw energy in tow. To kick off, we allocated just two audiolab monos to the Wharfedale Opus II-3, with tri-wiring via six monos (the eagerly anticipated highlight of this exercise) reserved for last. I know how it'll sound - unbelievable and
exaggerated. I'll have to say it anyhow: Sonically, this combination lit up the room within the first few bars like a sunrise. The audiolabs literally repositioned the Wharfedale Opus II-3 to finally elicit the sonic character I was after from the get. Bass gained in dryness, tightening up the low end with transparency and recoil. Yet this boon extended upwards into the mids and highs too which gained in jump factor and dynamics.

"Big City Rot" on Sophia is dominated by a warm, croaky, centrally positioned voice and very large-sounding steel string guitar. Many speakers parlay the guitar very transparently albeit also silvery cold. Others add warmth but wash out details. Aided and abetted by the audiolabs, the Wharedale Opus II-3 bridged these camps: Transparent and virile without silver default. Properly powered, the Wharfedale Opus II-3's dynamics could now duly be called jumpy. "Excellent microdynamics" indeed showed up in my notebook by track 5, "Twilight at the Hotel Moscow". As did "guitar sounds transparent, immediate and real". Dimensionality too saw little to criticize - not as ultimately organized as over the Thiel CS 2.4 but staging did take a forward step.

Alas, no real gains in the treble. Properly proportioned it was but I'd still not call the treble the Wharfedale's signature attraction. By the same measure, it'll never be fatiguing. Where the trumpet in the same piece can approach the pointed shrill over the Thiel, the girl from the UK handles it -- and the violin -- without grating any nerves. How about the remainder of the spectrum? On "Twilight at the Hotel Moscow", the bass drum, massive and dry as a desert, goes 'bumm' every few bars. With apologies for slang, that was 'rad, dude'. Let's not forget tri-amping. We fully intended maximal turbo boost via six mono amps. Two words might suffice: "Advantage recall".

While the bass gained further control, it lost its charm. Guitars grew even bristlier but missed elegance. No, one shouldn't apply too firm a hand to the Wharfedale Opus II-3. The sound then turns too damped, too bright, too stern, lacking in air, color and -- as Ralph duly noted -- it even turns a bit nervous...

Such sensitivity to what drives it I at first did not credit the Wharfedale Opus II-3 with - at least while eyeing their rather non-critical impedance plot and friendly voltage sensitivity. The motion to tri-amp was really mostly in response to IAG's recommendation of combining its own brands and to maximize the aftern connectivity options.

The Wharfedale Opus II-3 ...
  • won't mate with just anything: For amplifiers, gravitate toward those with grip, dynamics and speed as well as resolving power. A somewhat lighter, slimmer tonality - contingent on room size of course -- might be an added advantage. Despite its voltage sensitivity, tube amps seem out.
  • feels at home in rooms of 30 square meters or bigger and wants 3 meters between listener and speakers. Implementing the minimum recommended 20cm distance from the front wall results in insufficient freedom from the box - 70cm seems the realistic minimum. Ditto for side wall distance. 70cm seem necessary, incidentally as stated in the manual.

If one complies with the above mandates, the Wharedale Opus II-3 impresses with...

  • an utterly colorful, full-bodied and natural presentation, likely due to the range covered by the midrange dome.
  • a neutral, coherent, seamless union of all frequencies.
  • a very extended and intelligible bass which even in sizeable environs won't suffer dropouts.
  • an utter absence of sharpness and hardness, instead a very sonorous depiction.
  • a generally artistically painted rather than energetically forward musical presentation.
  • not exactly state-of-the-art treble resolution. The Wharfedale Opus II-3 plainly is no member of the analytical vivisection club.

The Wharfedale Opus II-3 is clearly a special subject even for loudspeaker budgets beyond its 4,600 sticker. Should the above descriptions coincide with your sonic biases; should you posses the requisite physical space and be prepared to address amplification with care - then you really should audition the Wharfedale Opus II-3 intensively.

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